Hoping to show that ‘behind every badge there’s a heart,’ Indian Woods SRO taking the stage in school production of Willy Wonka Jr.

Student Resource Officer Justin Seals is a man of many talents. He’ll take the stage as the Candy Man today in Indian Woods’ production of Willy Wonka Jr.

For the past two years, Overland Park Police Officer Justin Seals has worked to build a rapport with students at Indian Woods Middle School as the building’s student resource office.

Gaining the confidence of students can be a tricky task for any SRO — but particularly for those working with students in what former Indian Woods principal Jim Wink lovingly called the “range of the strange.”

So when Seals sees an opportunity to form relationships with Indian Woods students, he jumps at it. Such was the case last fall when, while reading the morning announcements, he noticed a line in the brief about the upcoming tryouts for this year’s musical production.

“It said that the production is open to everybody,” Seals recalls. “Within a split second I said, ‘Well maybe I’ll even come out for it.’ Kind of a way to get students excited or interested, I guess.”

Afterwards, he approached choir teacher Rebecca Schanckenberg and inquired about whether there might be a small role he could audition for, one that wouldn’t take a prime spot that a student would want. After reviewing the script, the two settled on the Candy Man, who ends up selling Charlie the golden ticket that gets him into the chocolate factory.

Seals had no background in theatre, but said he’s loved the chance to learn the craft. He’s auditioned with the students as his schedule has allowed since January.

“I’m working with students who have more experience than me,” Seals said. “They’re very talented. So watching them having fun with it and watching them grow is an experience I won’t ever forget.”

Here’s a video the school district produced of Seals rehearsing with the cast and crew.

Tonight, after months of work, the students — and Seals — will get to make their big debut. Seals said he hopes working together on the musical will change the way some students see him.

“Behind every badge there is a heart — that’s one of the main things I want to show,” he said. “If can reach a student doing this and get them to see me in a bit of a different way, that’s worth it.”

The production debuts tonight at 7 p.m. on the Indian Woods stage, with a second performance Friday night at 7 p.m. as well. More information on the performances and tickets can be found here.